A spiritual gift may be defined as the divine bestowal of a special faculty upon a member of the Body of Christ. In each thus endowed, the gift embodies qualification, fitness and strength. In the Scriptures and in the Church, the special ability is sometimes called a gift apart from the individual to whom it has been entrusted: as for example, in I Corinthians 12. At other times the endowed individual is called the gift as in Ephesians 4. m other words, this subject of gifts in the New Testament is treated in more or less an abstract and concrete manner. Spiritual endowment should be considered altogether apart from natural ability and talent.
We must study this important subject in a progressive way as it is set forth in the Holy Scriptures. In this lesson we shall examine the source of gifts, their ultimate objective, their intermediate purpose, their character and their classification. Let us therefore read very carefully Ephesians 4:7-13.
The context in which Paul’s statement relative to spiritual gifts is found in Ephesians 4:7-13, is most interesting and instructive. In the earlier part of the chapter he lists the seven unities of the Christian faith and Church. Unity does not necessarily imply sameness, nor does diversity suggest disagreement. While unity does not require uniformity, the exercise in the Church of the diversified gifts should be in complete accord with the divine, absolute unities revealed in the Word of God. Let us now notice:
The general statement: “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (V. 7). Paul acknowledged that by himself and all his Ephesian readers some gift had been received. He does not give a list here, this he does in I Corinthians 12, but here he makes the statement of fact. Each Christian has received in measure a heavenly endowment.
The specific illustration: “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (V. 11). These are the specific gifts that were used in the founding, developing and maintaining of the Church Universal, particularly in apostolic times. The more general gifts listed elsewhere are used usually in the administration and function of the church in her local aspect. Paul mentions these to demonstrate that all gifts, specific and general, come from Christ, the Victorious One.
Christ their source: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (V. 8). This verse is a quotation from Psalm 68:18, with a remote allusion to the song of Deborah after the victory of Barak (Jud. 5:12). Psalm 68 was probably written by David to celebrate a victory. In the Psalm he pictures the Lord as a king triumphantly leading his enemy into captivity, and taking from him gifts to distribute among his own men. In Ephesians 4:8, the words are applied to Christ, victorious at Calvary, leading the one-time captor, Satan, as a captive into captivity. This He did in death by destroying him who had the power of death, that is the devil (Heb. 2:14). In triumph, He then gives gifts unto men.
Christ in His humiliation descended from His royal throne even into the grave, and in His ascension He passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14) and sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3). It is from that exalted position in glory that He distributes all spiritual gifts.
Their Ultimate Objective
The final objective of the gifts mentioned here is threefold: First, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (V. 13). The ministry of the divine gifts should deepen confidence in the Lord and increase the knowledge of Him in the individual; furthermore, this development should result in a closer cohesion of the members of the Body of Christ. The spiritual ministry of the gifts from the Risen Head of the Church should deepen faith and broaden knowledge in the individual believer and draw all believers more intimately together.
Second: “Till we all come … unto a perfect man.” That is, until we all come to full maturity. It was this type of perfection that Paul sought to attain, a perfection consummated at the resurrection (Phil. 3:11). Although he knew that this could not be fully realized in this life, he laboured that he might present every man perfect in Christ (Col. 1:28-29).
Third: “Till we all come … unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” There is a reference to the full stature of Christ in I Corinthians 12:12, where the definite article appears in the original, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also (is) the Christ” (N.T.). When the Lord Jesus rap tures His Church home to Heaven, He will be the glorious Head of the completed mystical Body, and then shall be attained the full stature of Christ.
In this ultimate objective of the gifts, a divine progress may be noticed. First, a deepening of faith in Christ and an increasing knowledge of Him which draws the members of the Body of Christ into closer cohesion, then a growing into maturity, and finally a reaching of the full stature of the Christ. What a wonderful future awaits the Church!
The Intermediate Purpose
Immediately after enumerating the major gifts, Paul states that they were given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ.” The word “perfecting” used here is kindred to the verb used in Matthew 4:21, where it is recorded that James and John were mending their nets. It is also used in Galatians 6:1, where the spiritual are to restore the fallen. It also appears in I Corinthians 1:10, where Paul exhorts the saints not to be divided but perfectly joined together. The idea expressed by the word is that of repairing a tear and adjusting that which is broken; it implies, therefore, the making fit and ready for service. Consequently, the intermediate purpose of spiritual gifts is to fit the saints, both private and public, for effective contributions to the edifying of the Body of Christ. Through the ministry of divinely endowed men, Christians in general are made builders, each on his part furthering the consolidation of the spiritual building, the Church of the Living God.
While all the spiritual gifts are not mentioned in Ephesians, those that are have frequently been called the major gifts, by this it is not to be understood that some other gifts are of minor importance, for all have their source in Christ and accomplish that for which they were intended. Let us now define the terms properly:
Apostles: This appellation is used in both a general and specific sense in the New Testament. Specifically it refers to the immediate envoys of the Saviour, those who actually had been called by Him, and who literally companied with Him in life. Paul is the only exception to this; nevertheless, even he saw the Lord in glory, and was called by Him in a very special way, and, furthermore, companied with Him in an unusual manner (Acts 22:18-19; 23:11. II Tim. 4:17). Paul claimed to be an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father (Gal. 1:1). In general, the appella- tion apostle was used, as the name implies, for an envoy or missionary of the Lord like Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7), and Titus and others (II Cor. 8:23). In the Corinthian passage where the word messenger appears it should read apostle. An apostle might be understood to be a delegate of the Lord or even of the church.
Prophets: It should be noted that in four separate passages in the Pauline epistles we read of the apostles and prophets, the prophets being mentioned second to the apostles (I Cor. 12:28. Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). This order is sufficient to prove that they were not prophets of the Old Testament, but gifts given by the Exalted Head of the Church, second only to the apostles. It should likewise be noted that their ministry, along with that of the apostles, was in the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20). Three prophets are mentioned by name in the Book of the Acts. Three prophetesses also are referred to in the same book, but they are not named. A word or two in connection with these latter might be helpful here. It should be remembered that Paul had already written his Epistle to the Corinthians in which he stated, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law” (I Cor. 14:34). We therefore conclude that the Holy Spirit in making mention of Philip’s three daughters did so because, although they possessed this extraordinary gift, they were using it in accord with the restriction that He, the Spirit of God, had set down for public church gatherings through the pen of the Apostle Paul. It has been thought by some that their prophesying was well within the context of Acts 21:8-11. That with prophetic vision, they joined Agabus in predicting what would happen to Paul if he went up to Jerusalem. If this be so, their service was in the home, in private, rather than in the public congregation of the saints.
From the references to the three prophets, we might be able to ascertain something about their gift and ministry. “Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them” (Acts 15:32). “And there stood up one of them (the prophets) named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world” (Acts 11:28). He was capable of predicting the future. Furthermore, this same prophet predicted the arrest of Paul by the Jews and his being delivered into the hands of the Gentiles (Acts 21:11).
According to I Corinthians 14:30, the prophets received direct revelations from God, and according to Ephesians 3:5, they received the revelation of the mystery relative to the Church as did the apostles, and they promulgated it as did the apostles.
From an examination of the several statements made in the New Testament about the prophets, we learn that at times they received direct revelations from God, and that these revelations could be of divine verities like the mystery (Eph. 3:1-12), or material wants like the famine in Judea, or like the imminent change in the circumstances of Paul. Furthermore, we learn that they could exhort and confirm disciples, and minister in the local church, albeit their message was subject to definite regulations (I Cor. 14:29-30), and their ministry to the appraisal of the hearers. Obviously their ministry was spontaneous and impromptu.
Such a ministry would no longer be needed after a permanent record of the will of God had been received as we have it in the New Testament Canon. This may explain why we have none of the sermons of the prophets recorded for us, and why no epistles were written by them.
Evangelists: This particular gift is directed to the proclamation of the gospel message; the evangelist is the bearer of glad tidings. The noun form occurs three times in the New Testament; in the passage where the major gifts are mentioned, and in Acts and Timothy. Philip is called an evangelist (Acts 21:8). He was one of the seven deacons appointed to administer the funds at Jerusalem in the first days of the Church (Acts 6:5), but eventually left there and settled in Caesarea where, obviously, he was known as “Philip the evangelist.” He possessed that gift.
As the central gift in the list, it may be considered the essential gift and ministry between the foundation Church of the past and the contemporary Church of the present. That which was founded by the apostles and the prophets is perpetuated and made ever contemporary by the continued work of the evangelist, and is consolidated by the pastors and teachers.
Timothy is told by Paul to do the work of an evangelist (II Tim. 4:5). This language seems to suggest that although not a gifted evangelist, Timothy, notwith- standing, was to spread the gospel as well as to pastor and to teach.
The mighty work of grace that finally resulted in the establishing of the church at Antioch, began when those “who had been scattered abroad through the tribulation that took place on the occasion of Stephen, passed through (the country) to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one but to Jews alone” (Acts 11:19, N.T.). Every believer should be ready to speak the gospel, but God has gifted some as evangelists who with dignity and authority, as heralds proclaim the glad tidings of salvation.
Pastors and Teachers: Dr. Moule and others suggest that from the form of the sentence, these two functions are regarded as coinciding and combining in the one person. The true guardian of the flock of Christ is a shepherd to heed and lead the sheep, also he is a teacher to feed them. We have looked at the shepherd and his ministry in former lessons, so need add nothing here, except it be that we pray the Lord to raise up among us gifted pastors and teachers, for these probably are the greatest needs in the Church today.
In the study of the spiritual gifts, and especially those that are called the major gifts, it becomes necessary to classify them. This in great measure has been done in the New Testament. We may group them into foundation and temporary gifts, and into structural and permanent gifts.
Temporary gifts: It is noticeable that the appellations apostles and prophets are linked together by the Spirit of God, and they always appear in the same order, “apostles and prophets” (I Cor. 12:29. Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). It is also noticeable that their active ministry was related to the early period of Christianity; the ministry of Christ was in the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20), and their receiving of the revelation of the mystery that God intended to bring both Jews and Gentiles into one body was given to and promulgated by both the apostles and prophets, and that, of course, was relevant to the beginning of the Church.
These facts, and the truth that nowhere in the New Testament is there any intimation of a succession of apostles or prophets, lead to the conclusion that the gifts of apostle and prophet were temporary in duration.
Furthermore, we are definitely told that prophecies were to end. In I Corinthians 13:8-13, there is drawn a vivid contrast between divine love which is eternal and the temporary sign gifts: “Whether there be prophecies they shall fail.” The verb “to fail” used here is translated into English differently in other passages of this same letter to the Corinthians. It is rendered “to bring to nought” (Chap. 1:28), “done away” (Chap. 13:10), “put away” (Chap. 13:11). It means that prophecies had to end. There was no need for fragmentary prophecies when the Word of God had been completed. Shadows are not appreciated when the true substance appears.
Permanent gifts: That the gifts “evangelists, pastors and teachers” were given for the permanent blessing of the Church is evidenced by the tenor of the New Testa- ment Scriptures. We know that the gift of the evangelist was exercised in both apostolic and post-apostolic days. Paul anticipating his own martyrdom wrote to Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist” (II Tim. 4:5). He expected a non-apostle to carry on this type of service. Furthermore, Peter was considering post-apostolic times when he committed to younger men the commission that he had received of the Lord, “Feed My Sheep” (John 21:15-17. I Peter 5:1-3). That these are to continue is further proved by a careful reading of such passages as II Timothy 4:1-5, and I Peter 5:1-4.
Tests on This Chapter
1. Does a spiritual gift differ from a natural talent?
2. Does everyone receive an endowment from Heaven?
3. How many major gifts are mentioned in Ephesians?
4. What is their intermediate purpose?
5. Name all the major gifts.
6. Name the passage that states that prophecies shall cease.
7. How many gifts are in the first group of these endowments?
8. Name the classifications of the major gifts.
9. What specifically is an apostle?
10. Name the second part of the threefold final objective of spiritual gifts.